How to Sleep with Lower Back Pain

For many people suffering from back pain, getting a good night’s sleep is challenging. And when day-to-day life is already uncomfortable and frustrating, an inability to sleep only makes things worse. For those wondering how to sleep with lower back pain, it can be helpful to experiment with different sleeping positions and sleep hygiene techniques. However, daytime care and understanding lower back pain causes also go a long way to improving sleep. 

Low Back Pain Causes

A woman on the edge of her bed with her hands on her lower back, which is in pain from an improper sleeping position.

Lower back pain is something most of us will experience at some point. Understanding its causes can be helpful when deciding how to treat it, but getting to the bottom of back pain isn’t always quick or easy. 

Back pain can be acute, chronic, achy, burning, shooting, or stabbing. It may be in one specific area or radiate into your hips and legs. Bending, lifting, twisting, and sitting can make it worse, yet so can standing and walking. With such varied symptoms, it makes sense there are also many different causes for back pain. 

A few of the most common causes of back pain include:

  • Muscles or ligament strains or sprains: Many “sudden” instances of back pain happen after lifting something heavy or moving suddenly. This can result in overstretching or tearing the muscles or ligaments in the back. Practicing proper lifting techniques and performing consistent strength training as directed can help you avoid these types of back issues.
  • Herniated, bulging, or ruptured discs: The spinal column consists of 24 movable bones separated by shock-absorbing discs. Sometimes, the interior gel-like substance of these discs can protrude out of place and put pressure on nearby nerves. Rest and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help heal herniated discs quickly.
  • Degenerative conditions: Conditions like osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and spinal stenosis can lead to back pain that develops and worsens over time. Most often, degenerative disc issues are managed with NSAIDs, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes like losing weight or quitting smoking. 

It’s important to see a pain management and spine care specialist to find the right back pain treatment that can restore your quality of life.

Chronic Back Pain

Acute back pain generally lasts a few days to a few weeks. Most people with acute back pain can point to a specific instance when the pain appeared. Those with chronic back pain experience pain for several months or longer. In some instances, acute back pain may become chronic, but in others, the pain develops and lingers with no clearly identifiable acute incident. 

Make an appointment to see your back pain management and spine care specialist if your pain:

  • Is the result of a fall or back injury 
  • last longer than a few weeks
  • Is affecting your daily life and isn’t improving 
  • Radiates down your legs or past your knees
  • Causes weakness, tingling, or numbness in your legs
  • Coincides with unexplained weight loss
  • Is paired with new bowel or bladder problems
  • Is accompanied by a fever

Lower Back Pain Self-Care

Although diagnosing and treating back and spine pain can be complex, many people with less severe issues can use lower back pain self-care and injury prevention techniques to find relief. 

Back pain prevention techniques and self-care strategies include:

A man going on a hike with friends for lower back pain self-care.
  • Exercise: Regular, low-impact activities like walking, biking, or swimming can help strengthen back muscles so they’re more supportive and flexible. 
  • Building muscular strength and flexibility: Weight training to strengthen your back and core helps support your back.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Getting to and staying at a healthy weight puts less strain on back muscles.
  • Quitting smoking: Being a smoker increases your risk of low back pain, but the risk decreases as you decrease the amount you smoke each day.
  • Maintaining good standing and sitting posture: Stand and sit with good posture that keeps the pelvis neutral and maintains the normal curve of your spine. Good posture reduces the stress placed on back muscles.
  • Using proper lifting techniques: Lift heavy items with your legs while keeping your back straight. Keep the load close to your body, don’t twist while you lift, and ask for help if the item is particularly heavy or awkward. 
  • Physical therapy: Like low back pain exercises, regular physical therapy can strengthen and stretch your back and decrease pain. Because it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between “good” and “bad” pain, working with an experienced physical therapist can be helpful. 
  • Massage: Many people find that regular massage or acupuncture reduces muscle tension and relieves back pain. 
  • Over-the-counter NSAIDs: Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications as directed can help you manage back pain and inflammation. 
  • Heat and cold: Pain caused by mild back injuries can be improved by using a wrapped ice pack on the area in 20- to 30-minute increments several times a day. After the first couple of days, alternating between ice and a heating pad for back pain can help. 
  • Sleep hygiene: Sleep is an important time for healing and rejuvenating physically and mentally. Good sleep hygiene habits are important in preventing and treating back pain.  

How to Sleep with Lower Back Pain

Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t always easy, especially when you’re in pain. The best sleeping position for back pain is on your side or back. Try the following tips and positions as you experiment to find the best way to sleep with lower back pain.

An illustration of how to sleep with lower back pain on one's side or back using extra support pillows.
  • Sleep on your side: Sleeping your side in the fetal position helps align your hips and maintain the natural curve of your spine to reduce pressure on the lower back. 
  • Sleep on your back: Sleeping on your back naturally aligns your spine, reduces stress on your back muscles and discs, and distributes your body weight evenly to avoid excess pressure on any areas.
  • Sleep in the reclined position: Adjustable beds, reclining chairs, or special foam wedges can help elevate the upper body, reducing pressure on the lower back and alleviating pain. 
  • Switch sleeping positions: Periodically switching positions during the night can help enhance circulation and prevent muscles from getting stiff.
  • Support with body pillows: Side sleepers may find relief from lower back and hip pain by placing a pillow between their knees. Those sleeping on their backs might enjoy placing one just behind their knees and/or lower back.  
  • Choose the right pillow and mattress: A properly supportive pillow and mattress can improve comfort and reduce back pain. Many people with back pain do better with medium or firm mattresses.
  • Keep your room cool and dark: A room that’s too warm can cause you to wake up during the night, as can ambient light. Cool, dark rooms help people get better sleep. 
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bed: Avoid caffeine 8 to 14 hours before bed. Also remember that alcohol can make it easier to fall asleep, but it negatively impacts sleep quality and may cause you to awaken unnecessarily.  

If you have acute or chronic back issues and would like to speak with a specialist regarding how to help lower back pain, please comment below or contact us

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